Adventures Culture Opinion

Why El Paso Should Be The Tex-Mex Food Capital

Photo: Foodbeast // Constantine Spyrou

Before it gained attention as the home of Khalid and the stomping grounds of celebrity chef Aaron Sanchez, El Paso has long been one of the country’s most unique cities. Its symbiosis with Juárez across the border, stone’s throw proximity to New Mexico, and own time-honored and family-built traditions have created a special culinary environment. Out of that, an evolution of Tex-Mex has occurred similar to that of allopatric speciation, where part of a group evolves separately because they’ve become distanced. El Paso’s cuisine is where several exclusive influences intertwine to make Tex-Mex far richer than any current bastion (San Antonio, LA, Albuquerque, etc.) has to offer, and is why it should become known as the true Tex-Mex capital of the United States.

Photo courtesy of Kristen Clarno

“You have a scene that is homegrown, immigrant, yet part of two states,” says Gustavo Arellano, author of the syndicated column ¡Ask a Mexican! and the book Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America. “More importantly, it’s completely overlooked by chroniclers of Mexican food in the United States because who the hell wants to go to El Paso unless you’re Mexican? There’s been no reason to go down.”

Located in the southwest corner of Texas, “Chuco” (the nickname for El Paso) is likely not your first choice for a foodie destination. Modern food media often passes it up for other cities like Austin, which is more new-age and trendy, and San Antonio, who claims to be the current “Tex-Mex capital.” Distance is the major reason why it’s often overlooked, as El Paso is a minimum six-hour drive from any of the other major Texan cities. However, passing on it means leaving scores of historic restaurants and a rich and diverse Mexican and Tex-Mex food scene hidden from the rest of the country.

El Paso’s greatest culinary strength comes from its relationship with its sister city, Juarez. Their symbiosis transcends the “border” that defines the two, creating a cross-cultural hub of one-of-a-kind flavors and eats. According to Arellano, that’s different from what you see in places like California and Arizona because of which cities migrate through the different states. California and Arizona miss out on a vast majority of Northern Mexico (with the exception of Sonora), but El Paso gets that sector of migrants.

“In northern Mexico the meat’s just better,” he explains. “They usually grill on mesquite so there’s gonna be a different flavor. So even something as simple as the carne asada in El Paso is going to be way better than in Southern California because they’re getting [Northern Mexicans] who worship grilling.”

Photo: Constantine Spyrou//Foodbeast

It means that you’ll be able to taste a distinctive smokiness and flavor profile out of the dollar-priced carne asada tacos at places like El Cometa and a savory $6 chorizo con huevos from Speedy’s. But you also get that difference in the eats that Juarez is known for, like tacos de tripitas (tripe). Taco truck chefs like the one at Arriba Juárez (which is more of a taco school bus) maximize the crispness and fattiness of the tripe, crafting a sensation similar to that of biting into the fatty part of a crackling with absolutely zero barnyard taste. That, combined with a fiery, vinegary salsa that hinges its magic on toreado chilies, is an unforgettable tacos de tripitas experience.

The city’s proximity to Mexico, however, also means that it gets a taste of a lot more native Mexican dishes than somewhere like San Antonio or Austin would get. Examples of this include salpicon, a shredded beef salad, and cabrito, or roasted kid goat. You’d be hard-pressed to find these the further you travel away from the border, but as immigrants come through El Paso, they leave a strong imprint on the local cuisine, whether it be the authentic dishes they bring across the border or how they evolve the local Tex-Mex cuisine.

Photo courtesy of Kristen Clarno

For this reason, some local El Pasoans may refer to their fare as more of “Mex-Tex” than “Tex-Mex.” Whichever way you characterize it, the restaurants there that offer the food are some of the best in the nation at doing it. You have Lucy’s, a generational institution whose machaca plates are the stuff of folklore in the area. There’s Kiki’s, who Aaron Sanchez put on the national map when he talked about their own version of machaca on Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate. L&J Cafe is THE local place for the aforementioned salpicon and other authentic Mexican dishes like carne desebrada (shredded beef in a flavorsome salsa española). And you can’t forget Chico’s Tacos, the local legend known for their drenched rolled tacos.

Even the classic combo platos here get distinctive twists based on what’s local. That’s because El Paso isn’t just bordering Mexico, it’s also bordering New Mexico. There’s actually parts of the city where you can walk down the street and suddenly end up in the “Land of Enchantment,” and the fabled Hatch River Valley is just a couple of hours away by car. As a result, New Mexico’s cuisine, including the Hatch chilies and pecans that act as bases of flavor, also find their way into the lineup of enchiladas, tacos, tamales, and other Tex-Mex standards.

Photo courtesy of Kristen Clarno

All of these ingredients, dishes, and influences together make El Paso’s Tex-Mex offerings something special beyond what you can find in the rest of the United States, or even Texas, for that matter. But does that make Chuco a place worthy of taking away San Antonio’s claim as the “Tex-Mex capital?” For now, one could argue yes, as El Paso holds the competitive advantage in terms of the innovation and evolution of that cuisine.

“San Antonio has always been best as almost a museum of Tex-Mex food,” Arellano says. “You have all these dishes, places, items… but you didn’t really see much migration of Mexicans into San Antonio, so you had all these generations of Tejanos eating the same food but you didn’t really see any new contributions by Mexican immigrants.”

There’s a shift in that notion these days, as younger Mexican chefs are coming to San Antonio and adding their own signatures to the mix. But for El Paso, that’s been going on for years, and while it may not be as big on the chile con carne or puffy tacos, the combo plates and authentic Mexican food don’t just match San Antonio’s. Through the integration of a widespread array of ingredients that blends multiple cuisines and countries together, they surpass it.

El Paso thus deserves that title of Tex-Mex capital because it hosts the best integration of both Texan and Mexican cuisine that any city in the United States can possibly offer. The food is proof of the harmony that can exist between two countries when the relationship is done right.


7 Burrito Styles Everyone Should Know

Burritos. They’re a staple of both Tex-Mex and Mexican Food alike. The reasoning behind their popularity isn’t hard to figure out. After all, who doesn’t love them? You get to stuff a tortilla full of every ingredient your heart desires as long as you can still roll it up.  You may pride yourself a burrito lover, but do you know all the essential types of burritos?

Here are the different burritos you need to know. 

1. Wet burrito


Photo Credit: Christopher Vasquez

Eaten with a knife and fork, this burrito definitely thinks it’s fresher than you.  Covered with melted cheese and smothered in a saucy, spicy red or green “gravy”.  Seems about right, considering this burrito is as large as a turkey.

2. Poncho Burrito


Photo Credit: Ross Bruniges

This may be the most conspicuous of burritos, a simple mix of beans, rice and meat. A chain in London, England even serves “Pancho” burritos with lines out the door.  Who says the Brits are bland?

3. Bean and Cheese Burrito


Photo Credit: Elliot Volkman

Made popular by taco chains like Taco Bell and Del Taco, this bean and cheese comfort food is the OG of burritos.  Easy on the wallet, but just as easy to make at home with bag of tortillas and a can of Rosarita’s refried beans.

4. Breakfast Burrito


Photo Credit: jeffreyw

Like chicken and waffles, you almost can’t imagine this combo was once a novelty. Made of eggs, potatoes and sausage, this combo perfectly marries breakfast and dinner… or would it be dinner and breakfast? Either way it’s delicious.

5. “Hapa” International Burrito

kimichi burrito

Photo Credit: Tim Walker

Half Hispanic, half Asian, this burrito is 100% delicious.  Fusing the classic poncho burrito with Asian flavors such as fresh fish, Kimchi or Korean BBQ. Thanks to Roy Choi and the Kogi food truck revolution, this cross-cultural dish has increasingly mainstream.

6. The California Burrito


Photo Credit: eric molina 

Originally from Southern California, this burrito is typically stuffed with carne asada, sour cream, cheese, salsa, guacamole and  french fries.  The burrito’s origin and popularity is credited to San Diego and surf culture.

7. Chimichanga


Photo Credit: jeffreyw

Hailing from the dry deserts of Arizona. Chimichangas encompass both the greatness of the south, deep-frying foods and the greatness of the American West, burritos. A definite game changer, this accidental concoction has brought joy to many stomachs.


Fast Food

New Animated Carl’s Jr. Commercial Feature Adult Swim’s Rick & Morty


When season 2 of Rick and Morty ended, we had some major withdrawals from the popular Adult Swim cartoon. During the finale of the second season, it was addressed that fans wouldn’t see the third for at least a year change.

Adult Swim, apparently partnered with Carl’s Jr., released this 30-second commercial highlighting the fast food chain’s line of burgers. Specifically, the new Tex-Mex Burger.

The burger features a charbroiled Black Angus beef patty topped with fire-roated poblano peppers and onions, tomatoes, lettuce, pepper jack cheese and Applewood-smoked bacon. It’s dressed with a spicy Santa Fe sauce and served on Carl’s Fresh Baked Buns.

For those itching for a brand-new season of Rick and Morty, however, this short burger commercial might be the closest thing we’ll get for a while.

Fast Food

Carl’s Jr. Adds Saucy TEX-MEX Thickburger To Menu


Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s is introducing a new Thickburger that draws inspiration from the southwest. You guessed it, Tex-Mex cuisine.

The Tex Mex Bacon Thickburger boasts a charbroiled Black Angus Beef patty that’s stacked with fire-roasted poblano peppers, onions, lettuce, tomatoes and thick-cut Applewood-smoked bacon. It features a spicy Santa Fe sauce and pepper-jack cheese.

Patrons can order the Thickburger with a 1/3 pound patty for $5.79 or a 1/2 pound patty for $6.99.

Carl’s and Hardee’s are also gearing up to launch a commercial for the burger featuring Texan Elle Evans of Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines video and Latina cover model Alejandra Guilmant from Mexico City.